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Childlessness and Education

Whether more education leads to more childlessness depends on the policy context

Long before we had the numbers, it was assumed more education among women would increase childlessness among them. More education means more autonomy and/or more to lose, the arguments go. Closer study in recent years has revealed a more complicated relationship. A new study by Gerda Neyer, Jan Hoem and Gunnar Andersson using extensive data from Sweden and Austria shows that type and field of education can matter as much as level.

For instance, in both countries childlessness was as low among women with high levels of education in “feminised” fields like healthcare or teaching as it was among women with less education in fields like tourism or banking. But where level of education mattered, it mattered more in Austria, where family and labour policies do not facilitate the reconciliation of women’s careers and childbearing. Both findings suggest institutions and policies modify preferences and behaviour, even for fertility.